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April 4, 2008

Hugh Robertson: Future proofing our industry

Evaluation is the hot topic surrounding experiential marketing and for good reason. Until the sector can consistently demonstrate tangible results which are backed up by robust measurement tools, we will never take our place at marketing’s high table.

The dilemma is this: on the one hand we need to be able to isolate our discipline and convince clients that we have rigorous evaluation tools that can authoritatively show its effectiveness; on the other, we need to be able to show how experiential marketing can demonstrate its value as part of a wider integrated campaign. Therefore, evaluation must be able to isolate the discipline yet also show its effectiveness within a larger marketing framework.

Half way house

This isn’t easy. First, many traditional models of evaluation fail to recognise that experiential marketing is not a traditional medium. As a result, experiential marketing sits uneasily within existing measurement templates favoured by market research companies. Second, there is a responsibility for agencies and clients to commit sufficient funds to get strong enough data. At present, we are ending up in a half-way house where the data is not robust enough to really substantiate it on a wider basis. Third, we need the involvement of a trade association that can both protect confidentiality yet also champion the wider discipline.

Our industry now needs to make a concerted effort to address evaluation as the critical issue. Agencies must persuade clients that researching the short and long-term impact of experiential campaigns is critical. More resources need to be dedicated to this – at present, the focus tends to be on front-end planning and campaign execution. The ‘once an event is over, it’s on to the next one’ mentality has to change.

Furthermore, we must be able to demonstrate the effectiveness of experiential marketing within the context of wider integrated campaigns. We can’t isolate what we do from other traditional media, so let’s embrace this and understand that the sum of the parts is greater than the individual disciplines. Existing market research companies need to be encouraged to adapt their methodologies to include our discipline and we must lobby for this change.

A new set of principles

To this end, the Marketing Communication Consultants Association’s (MCCA) Metric & Evaluation Project is hugely welcomed. The organisation, in tandem with many of experiential marketing’s leading exponents, including RPM, has recognised that ‘a new set of principles and methodologies of commercially accountable marketing need to be generated’. Additionally, the MCCA has called for a ‘collective consensus’ to be developed. This is now happening, and MCCA member agencies were asked earlier this month to register their interest in participating in the project.

This is tremendously exciting. If experiential marketing can consistently show its ability to deliver results, both short and long term, both on its own and also within a wider integrated campaign, then at long last the discipline will be confidently able to sit alongside other disciplines. Not only does this allow experiential to be considered equitably when clients’ annual marketing budgets are allocated, it will also allow us to future proof our discipline. This latter point should not be lost on us.

Hugh Robertson is managing partner of experiential agency RPM

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